Miriam Zoila Pérez is a bodyworker, writer, speaker, and podcaster who has spent years attuned to health and wellness. We asked her to share her thoughts on all things massage, from misconceptions to what's cool, plus a few fun facts that might surprise you:
I’ve lived here since 2008 with a two-year hiatus in Brooklyn.
How did you get into massage therapy?
The idea just came to me one day: I had a vision of a massage table in my apartment. So I looked at the Potomac Massage Training Institute, went to an info session, and spent a summer wondering if I was going to do this. But once I started doing it, I didn’t question why I was there. It wasn’t a huge departure for me because I am a doula and had been writing about health for many years.
What’s the biggest misconception about massage that you want to clear up?
I don’t think people understand how therapeutic it can be. It’s not just about blissing out on the table, although it can be about that. You can actually address physical challenges in the body with massage therapy, and it can be very powerful. You can do a lot with these tools in collaboration with the client, and it doesn’t have to be super invasive. I want to be able to work in the most subtle way possible to get the biggest impact.
What’s the coolest part about being a massage therapist?
It reminds me of being a doula in some ways, that someone is giving you a gift of letting you be in relationship with them in a really vulnerable way. And that’s such an honor, to be able to trust someone like that. We don’t have a lot of therapeutic touch in our culture. We have romantic touch, familial touch, and doctors who touch us in clinical ways, but therapeutic touch is pretty much the domain of massage, physical therapy, and energy work. It’s a responsibility that I take pretty seriously.
You do a lot of different things! How does your doula work, speaking engagements, and writing connect with your massage therapy?
Although I don’t practice as a doula anymore, I write about doula work and I maintain a blog called Radical Doula as a resource for people in that world, so I still feel very much a part of it. I’m also a columnist at Colorlines, and I just launched a podcast, Radio Menea. Right now I’m part-time massage, part-time writing, and there is some balance I’m striving for in combining the two. Part of why I ended up doing this split is because writing is very cerebral and can be ego-based, while massage is the opposite. It’s more body-intuitive, and it can be very grounding and very humbling. It’s just you and another person and a room. When I’m doing bodywork on a client, whatever I’m stressed or worried about about kinda falls away and I get really focused on what’s going on in the room. Bodywork requires a presence that I think is therapeutic for me, too.
What would your last meal be?
Some form of bread and cheese. I bake bread as a hobby, so it’d probably be bread that I made myself.
What was your first concert?
Gloria Estefan. I’m Cuban-American, so her music was a big part of my childhood. I think I was four. All I remember was that I fell asleep during the conga!
What book did you read most as a child?
I was really into Judy Blume as a middle schooler. I remember Forever… had a big impact on me. It was the first time reading about sex and early sexual experience. That book was passed around my middle school by me. I literally have a copy of this tattered paperback somewhere with all the good parts earmarked. That desire to talk to people about their bodies and sex started early.
What’s something that might surprise people to learn about you?
I have fair skin and light eyes, so I don’t think I get read as Latina in the US. Both my parents are Cuban, but my mom’s family were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to Cuba who were fleeing anti-semitism. Being Latina is a big part of who I am and how I relate to the world. Spanish was my first language. I grew up in North Carolina at a time where there were very few Latino people at all. My mom likes to joke that she dropped me off at preschool and handed the teacher a Spanish-English dictionary so that she could communicate with me. That was at the time in the 80s when there was a lot of racism and xenophobia around language, and my parents were told that we wouldn’t learn English properly if they didn’t teach us English at home, which has now been totally been debunked.
What’s your favorite spot in DC?
One of my best friends owns a bakery, Grassroots Gourmet. It’s one of those places that I love popping in because she works there and it’s just a nice community space.
What’s your life motto?
“The only way out is through.” A friend said this to me when I was 30 and a lot of things were shifting. It’s not particularly comforting, but it’s extremely true. You can’t avoid it. You just have to let it happen.
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